Starring: Jonathan Groff, Lea Michele, John Gallagher Jr, Skyler Aston, Lauren Pritchard, Lily Cooper, Jennifer Damiano, Krysta Rodriguez, Gideon Glick, Tom Hulce, and Duncan Shiek.
Directed By: Michael John Warren
Where I Watched it: HBO MAX
English Audio Description Available?: Yes
Description Provided By: Zoo Digital
Narrated By: Kelly Brennen
The Plot: Despite what you may believe from reading the synopsis (even the one on IMDB), this is not a staged musical event like Hamilton. Or even the anniversary concert of Les miserables. It is a documentary about the concert you don’t get to actually see. #yourlifesucks and they’re here to remind you that the only way to have seen this was to attend it in person. it is the cast talking about how amazing the experience of being a cast member was, interspersed with clips of performances either from the original production, or the 15th anniversary, though not the whole song sung in its entirety.
What Works: Once I got past the huge letdown that was realizing we were not getting the actual concert version, but rather 90 minutes-ish of people talking about the concert version, what it was like to be in the original cast, what the fans are like, how humbling everything is, how much they love each other, how much they missed each other, how Spring Awakening started it all for them… once I got past all of that, i accepted this for what it was.
HBO MAX isn’t interested in actually creating new content with their cast reunions. The closest they came was with The West Wing cast reading through an old episode. Every successive reunion has been the original cast of whatever talking about these exact same things. HBO MAX is creating an entire sub genre of self serving projects that are overhyped, and offer nothing except super fans the opportunity to see a grouping of people in the same room at the same time.
The Friends cast reunion was overhyped, Fresh prince was just all about Will and Janet finally having the talk, Harry Potter spent the time dodging JK Rowling’s problematic LGBT opinions, and the closest thing we get to a revelation is that Jonathan Groff (who is now out and proud) swears that when he was dating Lea Michele he loved her, but he also basically knew he was gay and didn’t want to come out because he was afraid he would no longer be believable as a leading man. That’s as deep of a cut as we got.
So, this documentary will work depending on what you wanted from it, as well as what your expectations are with it. Basically, the more “super fan” you consider yourself to be, it’s likely you’ll enjoy just about anything they say or do, which is exactly what HBO MAX is banking on.
What Doesn’t Work: Other than being disappointed that this was not what I thought it would be, I still wanted as much singing as possible, because there’s only just so many times I need to hear from each individual cast member how amazing everything was and how their lives have changed and how happy they are to be reunited. Sometimes, it gets a bit repetitive and monotonous as cast members tend to share the same sentiments.
We do get some singing, if there were none, i probably would have set my Roku on fire, and cancelled my HBO MAX subscription. And then my Roku would probably just still walk behind me.
The Blind Perspective: I. Literally. Cannot. Kelly Brennen is a fine narrator. But at some point, someone needed to look at this project, this description, and go “did we do what was necessary?” Not just, did we hit it out of the park, but did we actually meet the minimum standard worth putting this out there? Because ultimately someone paid for this to be created, and this is not a completed audio description. I refuse to acknowledge it as such.
The beginning features several of the cast talking, bouncing from person to person, in this pre-game setup. I can recognize some voices, because of my level of familiarity with certain actors. But even i couldn’t match every voice, and there will be people watching this who can’t match any voice. None of those people speaking in the first part are ever named. It would have been so easy to throw in “Jonathan speaks”, or “Lea Michele” before their spoken blurb. Instead, the narration focuses on other things, leaving us to wonder who the hell is speaking. And the more maddening part is that for those who venture into this without reading my review, they will have no knowledge that later on, for some reason, the decision was finally made to assign names. After the title card, when the kids are doing their vocal warmups, we finally hear our first name. Jonathan Groff, and I was so happy. I thought the entire project was going to be like the first 4-10 minutes.
As someone who has had the opportunity to speak with people who do this and I know they are passionate about audio description,this one is a head scratcher, because I don’t know how this made it out of the door. This isn’t just bad robodescription. This is on Kelly’s resume now, and she felt comfortable reading this script, and having her voice associated with an unfinished project. I don’t know how else to put this but, this is not acceptable, and I hope those in the audio description community learn from this.
Documentaries featuring talking heads that assume who is speaking isn’t relevant, or that the audience has all the voices memorized, or whatever caused this choice. It is the wrong choice, anytime it’s made.acceptable audio description lets us know who the person speaks the first time, so we have an opportunity to try and match that voice to all successive times they speak. Great audio description will remind us later, instead of just the one time. Excellent audio description can manage to let us know every time, though sometimes that is admittedly difficult and rare, so I consider it above and beyond. Making us play guessing games, and leaving us quite literally in the dark is not the way to go.
Final Thoughts: I would have preferred a concert, because I am a huge fan of the musical. however, that’s the bitch of living, and sometimes we don’t get what we want. Instead, I got a cast reunion, and it was fine. not earth shattering, but fine.
Final Grade: B